Interviewed on the wireless today, one of Branson’s test pilots for his ludicrous ‘space tourism’ venture remarked that if Otto Lilienthal had crashed his glider and people said that would be the end of Man’s attempts to fly, where would we be now?
And I thought, yes. Yes! (punches the computer for emphasis).
Maybe powered flight is the absolute worst idea in history…
Let’s just take a minute to imagine a world without aeroplanes (US trans: airplanes). For a start, we wouldn’t go around dropping bombs on one another just to make a political point. All those people, mostly non-combatant civilians, women and children, needn’t have died before their time. It’s been going on for exactly a hundred years. Has anyone kept score? What are we talking? Millions of dead?
And rockets, and now unmanned drones controlled by teenage substance-abusers in a bunker somewhere in Virginia; swarms of tiny powered insect drones programmed to overfly a crowd and surgically take out all the people called Roger, using tiny missiles…
Then, without powered flight the world might be a little quieter.
I bogld yesterday my despair at the racket my neighbours make, their builders and decorators, the ceaseless whine and grind of power tools. I’ve complained before at the constant susurrus of distant traffic at night, punctuated by the snarl and rumble of speeding Subaru Imprezas and huge lorries in the street outside, the damned racket the seagulls make at dawn. Sirens; distant car alarms. Sometimes, as now, a train clatters past on the line behind the flats they built across the road.
But nothing compares to the mighty rush and roar of jets landing and taking off every two minutes, screaming over your home near the airport, starting up at five a.m. I used to live near Heathrow, very many years ago. I know. And I have lived on a Welsh hillside, where at any moment two RAF Tornado jets might suddenly appear from behind a hill and scream at rooftop height over your peaceful valley, transformed for a moment or two into a green parody of some flyblown mountain fastness, sheep and horses running about in panic.
And then there’s the pollution, engines injecting water vapour and particulates into the upper atmosphere. It’s estimated the world would be twenty per cent brighter without it, as was demonstrated when the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull (test me!) erupted and put a stop to commercial flights in the northern hemisphere for four sparkling days.
Probably the worst effect of commercial flights however is the ceaseless churning of citizens around the globe, the homogenisation of formerly disparate cultures, the increasing sameness of everywhere; starting with the bustling impersonality of countless airports. The onward transmission of mediocrity, amid a climate of perfervid boredom and intense, irrational paranoia.
This has contributed in no small measure to the dangerous idea, and to the American Project for the 21st Century, that everywhere should be a consumer capitalist liberal democracy, buying our stuff – or we’ll bomb the shit out of you from on high.
And without the dream of space flight, maybe overgrown kids like Branson – a true product of the consumer capitalist liberal democracy, if ever there was one – would spend a little more time and energy and (our) money fixing things down here, where they matter.